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Dan McDonald began working at Merchant & Gould during his first year of law school and never left. (File photo)
Dan McDonald began working at Merchant & Gould during his first year of law school and never left. (File photo)

Breaking the Ice: ‘Using your whole brain’ appeals to IP lawyer

Name: Dan McDonald

Title: Partner, Merchant & Gould

Education: B.S., electrical engineering, University of Minnesota; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Dan McDonald recalls that his hopes of combining his electrical engineering degree and his legal education into a career climbed quickly when he found a Merchant & Gould brochure in the University of Minnesota Law School’s placement office.

McDonald didn’t set out to specialize in intellectual property law. But he figured a firm might want someone with a technical background.

None did, however, until he read Merchant & Gould’s brochure. Most attorneys at the national intellectual property law firm headquartered in Minneapolis, it said, have engineering degrees.

McDonald began working there during his first year of law school and never left.

“Pretty short resume,” McDonald, a long-time partner, said recently, some three decades later.

While McDonald focuses on the electronics, software and internet cases, he’s also now representing plaintiffs in a couple of cases involving building construction materials.

One involves a “hybrid” window of wood, metal and plastic; the other involves a wooden structural panel that incorporates a layer of house wrap in one product.

An ardent University of Minnesota supporter, McDonald just completed a term as chair of the law school’s board of advisers. He also served as chair of the U’s Alumni Association board.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Be in the moment in the context of maybe observing something unique in the present circumstances that is spontaneous.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: I just finished reading “Filthy Rich,” about Jeffrey Epstein. It’s sitting right next to my Bible. That makes an interesting contrast.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Customer service phone lines that are too automated to give you what you want. Or when you do talk to the human being they ask too many questions unrelated to what you’re calling about.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A: You feel like you’re using your whole brain in this job. The independence of the job and how you shape your workday I don’t take for granted. The job pushes you to always add new skills. You never feel like you’re done learning.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Discovery disputes. Some of the battles you can get into are pretty inane.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: I enjoy traveling with my wife to places, especially if there’s a lot of history involved. We had a chance to go to Israel. I had to take some depositions there, and to see the history there was pretty amazing. When we’ve gone to Europe to see the history there, Normandy, places like that, that’s a favorite thing.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: The Minnesota State Fair is great one-stop shopping for everything Minnesota.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A: Herb Stern. I took an advocacy course from him when I was an associate. He was a federal prosecutor then a federal judge in New Jersey. He had presided over a hijacking trial in Berlin during the Cold War. That was the setting for a book and a movie, “Judgment in Berlin.” He wrote the book. He was a great communicator and his respect for the justice system was very evident.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: If you watch TV you think every case gets resolved in 57 minutes. But that’s the exception and not the rule. It’s an understatement. Certainly in my cases it can go a very long time.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A: “My Cousin Vinny.” Almost every character in the movie reveals something important about the legal system, and it’s just entertaining to boot.

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